Week10: The End of Poverty


I am reading The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs. The author presents an optimistic and compelling scenario for ending poverty by 2025– at least for one sixth of the world’s population who are struggling for survival.

Sachs describes the poverty trap simply and elegantly: the amount of capital per person falls from generation to generation due to a combination of factors like population growth, death of skilled workers due to AIDS and other widespread epidemics, lack of natural and physical resources and the sheer incapacity for families to save any money for investment – beyond just day to day survival.

What we need to do to end the poverty cycle for the world’s poorest, according to Sachs, is to raise the amount of capital per person above the level of subsistence to allow for saving and investment. Surprisingly, this could be accomplished for 0.7% of the GNP for the donor countries – dedicated to investments in infrastructure and human capital (health, nutrition, education).

Given that poverty is so tied-in with population explosion, Sachs asserts that “a concerted effort to end poverty in Africa would be the best guarantor to end the population explosion.” Parents in countries where the mortality rate is very high (like Africa) tend to have more children to compensate for the risk of death to disease. They are looking out for their economic interests by ensuring survival of at least one child by having many. As the economic health of the community improves, families “risk” having fewer children – confident that at least one child will survive. This leads to more investment in that child (through health care and training) and further (longer term) gains.

His solution (poverty-reduction strategy), based on the U.N.’s Millenium Development Goals involves 5 parts (not unlike some of the components of strategies for OER developments that we have been discussing):
• A differential diagnosis: local decision making for local investments.
• An investment plan: laying out exactly what is required and when.
• A financial plan: identifying current resources, costs and the gap that donors must fill.
• A donor plan – multi-year commitments to fund the gap identified in the financial plan.
• A public management plan: governance and administrative systems and structures.

The conditions that will lead to reduction in poverty: “child survival, girls’ education, women’s job opportunities, access to water and cooking fuel, access to family planning and contraception …” are (to some degree) supported by OER initiatives.

Sachs ends the book with a quote from Robert Kennedy, younger brother of US President John F. Kennedy, and known for his work with the civil rights movement:

“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written in the history of this generation…”

Seems a fitting quote to share given the current state of craziness in the world.

Need to do some more thinking on this and how it ties together with the contributions we make to OERs… looking forward to reading more posts from the OpenEd cohort.


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